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Answering The Atheist
September 23, 2007 / Volume 7, Issue 38

Who bought the sepulcher in Shechem from the sons of Hamor, Jacob (Joshua 24:32) or Abraham (Acts 7:16)? Is there a contradiction?

Genesis 33:19 reveals that Jacob bought a parcel of land from the children of hamor near the city of Shechem. This agrees with the record of Joshua. Why then does Stephen say that Abaraham purchased it from the sons of Hamor?

It is unlikely that a man as well versed and equipred in the knowledge of the Scriptures as Stephen made such an error in repeating the history of his people. Had he erred in his speech, surely the jews would have immediately pounced upon his error. This was not the case. Rather, they stopped up their earts, and in their anger put him to death (Acts 7:54-60). It has been suggested by some that the name Abraham has erroneously been added into the text through the hand of a scribe. This is certainly possible, as has been noted previously that copyist errors have entered on occasion. If so, then the text would properly read,

So Jacob went down to Egypt, and he died, he and our fathers. And they were carried back to Shechem and laid in the tomb bought for a sum of money from the sons of Hamor, the father of Shechem. (15-16)

Another possibility is suggested by John Wesley:
Abraham bought a burying place of the children of Heth, Gen. xxiii. There Jacob was buried. Jacob bought a field of the children of Hamor. There Joseph was buried. You see here, how St. Stephen contracts these two purchases into one. This concise manner of speaking, strange as it seems to us, was common among the Hebrews; particularly, when in a case notoriously known, the speaker mentioned but part of the story, and left the rest, which would have interrupted the current of his discourse, to be supplied in the mind of the hearer
(John Wesley's Notes on the Old and New Testament)

Yet another possibility exists. After Abraham came from Ur of the Chaldees, he "...passed through the land to the place of Shechem...", where "...he built an altar to the LORD..." (Genesis 12:6-7). Though there is no mention in the inspired text that Abraham purchased a plot of land on which to build this altar, it would certainly not be an unruly supposition. But if he did purchase it, then why would Jacob need to purchase it again? In Israel, when one purchased a property, it was in due time returned to it's original owner (Leviticus 27:24). Such may have also been the case in the land of Canaan beforehand. Or, if after the use by Abraham to build an altar, the land was not frequented by him or his family, perhaps the inhabitants of the land simply took possession of it once more. Thus, when Jacob came, he, like his grandfather, needed to purchase the plot of land.

Which is the correct explanation? I do not know. Perhaps there are others which are not listed here. But, in the presence of a plausible explanation, there is no contradiction.

This article is a response to Skeptic's Annotated Bible